Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office cracks down on impaired boaters

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is announcing successful results from recent increased enforcement efforts aimed at impaired boating.

The Sheriff’s Office worked in connection with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during Operation Dry Water. The operation from June 22 to 24 was designed to both remove intoxicated boat operators and educate people about the hazards of piloting a boat while drunk.

At the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, 27 deputies and special deputies took part in the stepped up enforcement effort on Lake Minnetonka.

During the three-day operation, deputies made 84 contacts with the public. There were 13 citations issued, 103 verbal warnings, and four BWI arrests.

"Keeping the lakes and rivers safe for everyone who uses them is an important public safety goal," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. "We will not tolerate anyone operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol in our county."

Sheriff Stanek reminds boat operators to designate a sober operator prior to a day of boating. This phase of the Operation Dry Water campaign has concluded but efforts to educate boaters and to stop impaired boating will continue everyday throughout Hennepin County.

The DNR has stated the following about BWI: "It continues to be a major problem throughout the country. In Minnesota, alcohol was involved in 50 percent of 16 boating fatalities in 2011."

A boat operator or even passengers with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit run a significantly increased risk of being involved in a fatal boating accident. When impaired by alcohol, boating accidents are more probable and more deadly for both passengers and boat operators, many of whom capsize their boat or simply fall overboard.

If arrested, impaired boaters can expect penalties to be severe. In Minnesota, consequences for BUI include a $1,000 fine, possible jail time, and loss of boat operating privileges for 90 days. Conviction for BUI goes on a person’s automobile driver’s license record and it may affect their car insurance. With certain aggravating factors, the fine can be even higher. There can be mandatory jail time, loss of car license plates and automobile driver’s license, and even forfeiture of the boat being operated at the time of arrest.

Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion, which are "stressors" common to the boating environment, intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and even some prescription medications.

Operation Dry Water is a multi-agency education and enforcement initiative launched in 2009 in partnership with the Minnesota DNR, county sheriff’s offices and the U.S. Coast Guard. National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) sponsored the detail.